Today’s theme has been chosen by Musikanta in Sweden and is quite fittingly: “Speaking of languages…”! Maybe you are already bored of my language posts but it is a subject that affects my everyday life as an expat and that is probably why I keep returning to this issue…
Musikanta actually asked me a few weeks ago how I ended up in Brussels and then Puerto Rico with a Spanish husband, and I have been asking myself a few times how it all started…
Did it start when I moved with my parents and siblings to England in 1988, and I had to learn the language in order to keep up in the English school? Or did it start even earlier?
Part of the lawn that was full of four-leaf clovers when I was a child… even if my brother and I never found any!
My parents have always travelled with us three children – and my childhood is filled with travel stories; my first trip “abroad” was by ferry to Helsingör (Elsinore) in Denmark (my travel outfit was a cute little red dress and a white scarf around my hair – very chic!) just before my 1st birthday; the first time I drank from a straw was in a autobahn restaurant somewhere in Germany and my parents had some trouble teaching me how to “suck up” my drink; the Swiss chef who made porridge especially for me in the hotel by Lake Geneva but I just cried because his big red nose really scared me; my father’s uncle’s Swiss wife who always found four-leaf clovers for me and my brother in their wonderful garden; the bird shit I sat in just in front of Notre-Dame in Paris in 1982; the toilet attendant I didn’t understand at Windsor Castle so I went into the gents’ where my father and brother were – many of these memories include the notion of not understanding the language spoken to me or around me.
The village in the south of France – there is a similar photo of me and my brother standing outside the café… but I took this picture when I revisited the village in 2005
All the while we were travelling around Europe by car, my mother would try to entertain us by inventing games (spot different cars or flags) or to sing songs. One of my strongest memories is learning the song Brother John in different languages:
Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Din, dan, don. Din, dan, don
Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping
Brother John, brother John?
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, dong, ding. Ding, dong, ding
Bruder Jakob, Bruder Jakob,
Schläfst du noch? Schläfst du noch?
Hörst du nicht die Glocken, Hörst du nicht die Glocken?
Ding, dang, dong, Ding, dang, dong
Broder Jakob, Broder Jakob,
Sover du? Sover du?
Hör du inte klockan? Hör du inte klockan?
Ding, ding, dong, Ding, ding, dong
(this song also reminds me of a great Midsummer’s eve party in Brussels when I had printed out the song in several European languages – it was a great “snaps song” for the very international mix of guests!)
Maybe that’s how my fascination for languages was triggered?
Or maybe it was the visit of the three sisters of my mother’s French pen pal Anne-Marie, all of them with double-names (Marie-Hélène is the only one I remember) and their black friend Eddie in 1981? It was probably one of the first times that my brother and I met a black person and we thought that Eddie was so cool! The four French visitors arrived one morning in an old Citroën, they had actually slept in the car just outside Dalby (10 km away) as they were too embarrassed to arrive earlier than announced. It was a great few days – Eddie played my father’s guitar, the girls cooked huge portions of pasta and tomato sauce, smoked cigarettes and drank wine with my parents… The French sisters taught my brother and I to count in French, and we sat up late at night on the patio listening to the adults’ conversation in broken English and French. I observed with fascination these French twentysomethings who were so different from my parents and the other adults I knew in our middle class neighbourhood. My brother was probably more interested in the Citroën, as it behaved strangely by rising up when the engine was turned on…
The bakery where my brother and I practised one of our first sentences in French!
A few years later we spent a few summers in the south of France and every morning my brother and I used to walk on our own to the boulangerie (bakery) in the small village to buy “une baguette et un bâtard, s’il vous plaît“… We were so proud that we were allowed to go to the bakery without our parents and also that we could buy bread in French!
So, speaking of languages, these are probably some of the reasons why I am so interested in learning new languages – to be able to communicate with people! I have always loved travelling and getting to know new cultures but in order to do that, I understood from a very early age that you need to speak different languages…
I remember how my parents discussed what kind of “infusion” (third from the bottom in the left-hand column) it was that you could order in the village bar in the south of France – nowadays I know that it means herbal tea!
The other Friday bloggers can be found below:
Anki, Anna, Annika, Christel, Curieux, Desiree, Emma, Erica, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Jemaya, Lena W, Leopardia, Mais-oui, Marie, Mia D, Millan, Moster Mjölgumpa, Musikanta, Nilla, Norrsken & Stjärnfall, Petra H, Saltis, Sara, Simone, Sparkling, Strandmamman, Taina, Under Ytan, Victoria V and Västmanländskan.